The United States men’s national team is about to round out the group stage of World Cup qualifying over the next six days with a match this Friday against Antigua and Barbuda, to be followed next Friday with a match against Guatemala.
Here is a breakdown of the U.S. roster, team news, injury updates and projected lineups for the game against Antigua and Barbuda.
U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann shocked almost everyone Monday with a number of the selections on his roster.
Jozy Altidore and Terrence Boyd were dropped and instead of calling in Chris Wondolowski, who many would say is arguably next on the list of American forwards, Klinsmann gave call-ups to Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon.
Altidore is currently leading the Eredivisie in scoring and Boyd is currently third in the Austrian Bundesliga in scoring. If Klinsmann was intent on going with a hot striker, he seems to have seriously missed the mark.
One can understand, to an extent, the exclusion of Altidore based on his national team performances against Jamaica, but Boyd has always seemed to put in an honest shift and is playing well for his club.
The exclusion of Wondolowski is just as baffling. While Wondo has never been overly impressive for the national team, he surely is a better goal scorer than Gordon and, in fact, the two play on the same team. Wondolowski is having an unbelievable MLS season right now with 25 goals. His 25 goals, by the way, are 11 goals better than French legend Thierry Henry, 11 better than Eddie Johnson and 12 better than Alan Gordon.
Klinsmann also dropped Jose Torres. At first, it appeared this was in deference to Sacha Kljestan, especially considering that many of Torres’ recent appearances with the national team have been underwhelming. However, it was revealed after the fact that Torres is injured.
Kljestan has been in good form with his club Anderlecht and has even been playing in the Champions League. However, Klinsmann has not favored Kljestan in the past and considering that these two matches are essentially do-or-die—it is not an ideal time to be experimenting with new lineups.
Kyle Beckerman, despite repeated poor performances for the national team, but always a Klinsmann favorite, also received another call-up.
Five U.S. players enter the match against Antigua carrying yellow cards, including Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones and Graham Zusi. If any of them were to pick up another caution on Friday, they will be suspended from the U.S.’ all-important match against Guatemala on Oct. 16.
The U.S. roster is currently ravaged with injuries, especially among its wide players.
In addition to Jose Torres being injured, Landon Donovan and Brek Shea were called into camp, but both were immediately ruled out due to previous injuries once they were looked at by U.S. Soccer’s medical staff.
It got worse today as U.S. Soccer announced that both Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo will also be missing Friday’s match, Castillo due to a foot injury and Johnson due to the flu.
Johnson may be available for the Guatemala match next Tuesday, but Castillo has been ruled out for both qualifiers.
The rash of injuries is particularly bad because all of the players hurt are wide players and four of those hurt are left-footed. Creating a lineup while patching up the left side of the field is going to be a challenge for Klinsmann.
Aston Villa fullback Eric Lichaj, Birmingham City fullback Jonathan Spector or even Nuremberg fullback Timothy Chandler could all be possible late roster replacements, but no replacements have been reported as of yet.
There are a number of scenarios for the USMNT to advance to the next round of CONCACAF qualifying, commonly known as the “hexagonal.”
To guarantee advancement, the U.S. will need at least four points over these last two games. Obviously, it becomes much easier for the U.S. if they can pick up the win against Antigua and Barbuda and then play for the tie against Guatemala at home.
Jamaica will likely beat Antigua on the final day of qualifying, meaning that Jamaica will finish the group with ten points regardless of their result against Guatemala. If Guatemala beats Jamaica on Friday, Guatemala would enter the match against the U.S. with ten points. In that scenario, the U.S. would need to at least tie Guatemala to guarantee advancement. If Guatemala were to beat Jamaica and the U.S. with the U.S. winning its game against Antigua and Barbuda, advancement would come down to goal differential between the U.S. and Jamaica.
Antigua and Barbuda is also feeling very confident of their chances on Friday. The Secretary of their federation recently stated that this is, “Our strongest team we are going to put on the field ever, and we are going to be ready and rearing to go to win.”
He continued, saying, “They [the U.S.] don’t play well away in smaller territories so we are going to use that to our advantage, with our home crowd support because we know we have to fill that stadium and we believe we are going to have what it takes to take us home.”
The defense Klinsmann would choose seemed obvious just two days ago with Steve Cherundolo, Carlos Bocanegra, Geoff Cameron and Fabian Johnson expected to be manning the back line. Now, it’s anyone’s guess as Klinsmann looks to fill the void at left back with Johnson and Castillo injured.
Unless Klinsmann calls in replacements, he will likely go with Michael Parkhurst. Parkhurst had a decent outing against Chelsea in last week’s Champions League match despite the fact that his Nordsjaelland side was beaten 4-0. Parkhurst also played well in the away leg against Jamaica, one of the few American players who had a good night in Kingston.
The other option would be to move Carlos Bocanegra to the left and insert Clarence Goodson into the center, but Bocanegra’s speed has made him more vulnerable out wide than he was in his younger years.
The midfield also presents Klinsmann with some difficult choices as many of his more competent wingers will not be available and, according to most pundits, the wide areas were where the U.S. struggled most in their first game against Jamaica last month.
If Klinsmann goes with his more recently preferred 4-1-3-2, he will likely play Michael Bradley as the holding midfielder, Jermaine Jones as the box-to-box midfielder and Graham Zusi on the right. The left midfield spot would be up for grabs as Klinsmann could select Joe Corona, Sacha Kljestan, Danny Williams or Clint Dempsey.
Corona is the only player currently on the roster with any real experience on the left.
Kljestan is naturally a center midfielder, although he has been deployed wide by the national team in the past.
Williams, who is a natural holding midfielder, has been shoe-horned by Klinsmann into the wide midfielder spot in the past but usually with unimpressive results.
Dempsey has proven for both the national team and with Fulham that he can play wide and do it well, but that would require Klinsmann to partner Herculez Gomez up top with USMNT newbie Alan Gordon or the recently recalled Eddie Johnson.
However, if Klinsmann goes with the 4-3-3 that he has traditionally shown deference to, he will likely go with Danny Williams in the holding role, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley in the box-to-box roles and Clint Dempsey, Herculez Gomez and Graham Zusi up top. This lineup would make better use of the team’s available talent, although the U.S. has usually played better with a two-striker system.
Whatever lineup he goes with, this is no time for excuses; U.S. qualification becomes much easier with a win in Antigua.
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